The powerful development of agriculture in Peru has allowed the country to become an important player in the global export of fruits and vegetables, leading the international marketing of both blueberries and asparagus. However, its growth model is strongly dependent on the availability of water, and many regions' water extraction rates are higher than their natural recovery capacity.
The melting of the Peruvian Andean tropical glaciers (71% of all those existing in Latin America) has been the factor that has allowed Peruvian agriculture's boom, but climate change has condemned them to disappear in about 150 years (some in less than 50). In fact, these glaciers, the country's main reserve of freshwater, are retreating at an average of 20 meters a year.
So is the country's agricultural boom a blessing or a tragedy?
The cultivation of one of the most important vegetables in the country, asparagus, which today provides 450 million dollars a year and up to 10,000 jobs in a very poor area, began in the 50s, although its development was promoted in the mid-80s. Asparagus is grown in La Libertad or, 95% of all exports, in the Ica Valley (400 km south of Lima) on lands that have been reclaimed from the desert. Asparagus is a crop that demands a lot of water, which has led to a drop of up to 8 meters per year in the underlying aquifers of some places in the Ica valley.
In their despair, some people are trying to stop the glaciers from melting by painting the rocks white or covering the snow-capped mountains with ichu (grass from the highlands) and sawdust to protect them.
Peru's water security, including that of the metropolitan region of Lima, will be in danger if Peru doesn't improve its water-use efficiency, diversification of supply sources (reusing reclaimed water with advanced treatments and desalination of brackish or seawater where justified), development of natural infrastructures for conservation, restoration, and recovery of its ecosystems. In addition, not taking these steps would hinder the country's ability to anticipate, once again, an extraordinary global challenge.